In spite of my efforts to be positive about my first Christmas away from home, it was still difficult not to feel homesick and lonely and just a little bit sorry for myself as I ate my lonely Noche Buena of chili-flavored cream cheese, crackers, and hospital-issue minestrone soup in the doctors' office on Christmas eve. I realized that even our past Christmases at work did not prepare me for the impact of spending Christmas so alone, so very far away.
I decided to work through the holidays simply because I didn't really have any plans with other people - and I figured being alone on Christmas at work beat a microwaved meal passing for Christmas eve feasting at home.
Despite being at work, as I ate my meager repast, I couldn't help but imagine what I was missing. The raucous, cheerful atmosphere around the table at home at the same moment, with aunts, uncles, cousins, and my immediate family, feasting over Mom's kare-kare, Dad's dinuguan, and all sorts of gastronomic goodies Filipino and continental; the mayhem of family sitting in front of the tree, exchanging gifts and tearing open packages. I've always been a bit of a Christmas scrooge, but being far away has heightened my appreciation of the family rituals surrounding it.
The long distance phone call my family placed from my Aunt's house where the clan was gathered for Noche Buena (which was inevitably cut off mid-call) and hearing everyone's good wishes were pale substitutes for actually being there.
I didn't really set out to spend the holidays alone, but it would have been too complicated to shuffle my schedule to accommodate an out-of-town trip to visit family and friends across the continent despite the sincere invites I'd gotten from them months in advance. Besidses, all of my Perth friends have opted to spend the holidays over east, and most of my family in Melbourne have flown off to spend Christmas in Manila. As I sat alone in the doctors' office through the night, waiting for admissions and referrals and fighting off a monster headache due to working three nights in a row, I thought I should have made an effort of get time off instead of braving my first Christmas alone, but it was too late to do anything about it but make do.
After I realized I had missed morning Mass (the only one for the day in my small parish), I came home from work this morning hoping that I was exhausted enough to sleep through the day. But I was awake by early afternoon, and all alone in a very quiet house because my other housemates probably had plans to spend the days with their friends and family. For late Christmas lunch, I microwaved a portion of roast Chicken I had bought a few days ago with a generous dollop of spicy Mang Tomas lechon sauce to remind me of home, which I ate at the table with my landlady's cat for company.
Determined to shake off my funk with an endorphin high, I decided to head off for the beach and go for a run. It was the best choice I made all day, as the summer sunshine and the brisk breeze off the beautiful, green Indian ocean melted a good portion of my blues away. It was a good reminder that while there are things to be homesick about, being here has definitely had some great rewards - and being able to run along the coast I loved on a whim was one of them.
I topped off my strange, solitary Christmas day with more comfort food in the form of Lucky Me instant pancit canton reserved for special occasions like this one, as I finished off the opened bottle of bubbly in the fridge. The best part of the late evening, though, was long-distance conversations with well-missed friends whose voices I was so glad to hear. And as my night wound down, I realized that the day hadn't been quite so bad after all.
Yes, I survived my solitary Christmas out of the box. Still, nothing beats being able to spend Christmas at home - and, God-willing, I'm hoping that's just where I will be this same time next year, even if it takes some schedule juggling.
So I'm sending special wishes to everyone out there like me spending this holiday season far away from home, making do with friends, surrogate families, and long-distance phone calls in lieu of being with their loved ones. Merry Christmas and all the best to you - and may the love and warmth of family and friends reach out to embrace you even if they are oceans away, no matter where you are.